Swann v. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education

RESPONDENT: Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education
LOCATION: Mecklenburg County Superior Court

DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1970-1971)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit

CITATION: 402 US 1 (1971)
ARGUED: Oct 12, 1970
DECIDED: Apr 20, 1971

Facts of the case

After the Supreme Court's decision in 1954 in Brown v. Board of Education, little progress had been made in desegregating public schools. One example was the Charlotte-Mecklenburg, North Carolina, system in which approximately 14,000 black students attended schools that were either totally black or more than 99 percent black. Lower courts had experimented with a number of possible solutions when the case reached the Supreme Court.


Were federal courts constitutionally authorized to oversee and produce remedies for state-imposed segregation?

Media for Swann v. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - October 12, 1970 in Swann v. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education

Warren E. Burger:

Swann against Charlotte-Mehcklenburg, Board of Education along with 349, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education against Swann.

Is counsel ready?

Julius LeVonne Chambers:

Yes Mr. Chief Justice.

Warren E. Burger:

Mr. Chambers you may proceed whenever you're ready.

Julius LeVonne Chambers:

Thank you.

Mr. Chief Justice, and may it please the Court.

These cases number 281 and 349, are here on writs of certiorari directed to the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit.

The Fourth Circuit adopted a new reasonableness test, approved the plan of the District Court for the junior and senior high schools, and vacated the decision and directed further consideration of a plan for the elementary schools requiring that the District Court apply a reasonableness test.

The plaintiff's petitioned this Court for certiorari, this Court granted certiorari in Number 281 on June 30, reinstated the District Court's plan of desegregation and authorized further hearing by the District Court as had been directed by the Fourth Circuit.

The District Court conducted further hearings during July 1970.

And on August 3, 1970, applying the Fourth Circuit's new test of reasonableness found a plan and had directed in February 1970 to be reasonable and reinstated its February 5th order.

The school board appealed to the Fourth Circuit and petitioned this Court for certiorari prior to the decision by the Fourth Circuit.

This Court granted that petition on October 6th, along with the petition of the school board to review the plan of the court with respect to the junior and senior high schools which the Fourth Circuit had approved as reasonable.

The court therefore has before it, the complete plan of the District Court which had been directed in February 1970, and re-approved by the District Court on August 3rd, 1970.

We think that the decision of the District Court can be sustained under the equitable discretion of that court as authorized by Brown.

We submit however, that the constitutional principles by which the District Court was guided particularly the requirement for the elimination of all Black and racially identifiable Black schools.

On this record and under the circumstances of this case, we're clearly correct and should be sustained by this Court.

The issues in this case are --

Warren E. Burger:

Do you have to persuade us Mr. Chambers that they're clearly correct?

Julius LeVonne Chambers:

I think Your Honor that under the appellate procedural rules for considering cases on appeal that if there is sufficient evidence or -- to support the decision below that the court should sustain the decision of the District Court.

The issues on this case are one, whether the school board may continue to perpetuate all Black or racially identifiable Black schools, where such schools have been created and fostered by state acts, and possible means are available to disestablish such schools.

Secondly, whether the reasonableness test adopted by the Court of Appeals which would permit continued operation or state created, all Black or racially identifiable Black schools, although feasible means are available to desegregate such schools is an acceptable constitutional test to be applied in school desegregation cases.

The facts briefly summarized are these.

At the time of this Court's decision in Alexander v. Holmes, County Board of Education, 45,012 up to 59,828 White students in this system were attending all White or racially identifiable white schools.

16,000 of the 24,714 Black students were in all Black or racially identifiable black schools, these students were attending 82 of the 106 schools in the system, only 24 of these schools were not racially identifiable.

Judge Sobeloff noted in his dissent that the extensive segregation in this system was not fortuitous that it had resulted from practices of the school board which had interacted with other governmental discriminatory practices.

So that at the time of the decision of the District Court, the Black and White population in this system, in school and at home, were virtually, entirely segregated.

As the District Court noted, more Black students were in segregated schools in 1970 than at the time of this Court's decision in 1954.

The court had found in April of 1969, that schools had been segregated or their racial identity perpetuated by practices and policies of the school board.

The board had located schools, controlled school size, grade structure, in order to maintain segregated schools.